Earlier this month, we learned that the Trump administration is still looking for ways to use a red team of deniers to attack climate science. It’s been two years since Steve Koonin first proposed the idea--surely he’s spent this time developing a unique and razor-sharp argument to justify opening a new line of debate and taking the establishment by surprise.
Or, he’s just been rehashing the same set of denial lies that have already been debunked by the de facto blue team of honest scientists.
Fortunately, NASA’s Gavin Schmidt recently found a talk Koonin gave at Purdue, and dissected the many arguments Koonin made in a post at Real Climate. Surprising absolutely no one, it turns out that not only did Koonin fail to detail any actual concerns about the NCA being misleading, but the points he actually makes are, per Schmidt, “a few fallacious arguments, some outright errors, some secondhand misdirection, a scattering of dubious assumptions and a couple of very odd contradictions.”
On the fallacious front, Koonin makes a demand for perfect knowledge before justifying action, and a disbelief in future sea level rise projections because it hasn’t happened already.
He contradicts himself in claiming that, per Schmidt’s paraphrasing, “attribution is complex and deserves careful attention,” which was then immediately undercut by Koonin’s use of a graph from WUWT blogger Bob Tisdale. Hard to believe you really want top-notch science when you’re pulling graphs from bargain basement bloggers.
On a slightly headier front, Koonin trotted out the old reliable “I know you are but what am I” trope at his Purdue talk, accusing other scientists of making biased, normative statements while doing exactly that himself. Schmidt describes how Koonin is “hyper-critical” of climate science showing there’s a problem, but at the same time “naively credulous” of the economics saying that we’ll all be rich so it won’t matter.
And then there’s the lengthy list of errors that Schmidt spotted, ranging from Koonin being just plain wrong about models on more than a few points (one of which even Koonin’s own slide debunked), to building strawman arguments, to selectively quoting Schmit himself, to claiming that Koonin “would do more when the signal has come out of the noise, which it has not yet.”
This would be an accurate and defensible statement if it were made 25 years ago, and tells you exactly how serious and up-to-date Koonin’s criticisms are. For legitimate climate scientists, the question of whether or not the climate signal has emerged from the noise of natural variability was settled in 1995, with the second IPCC report--specifically with the conclusion that "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate."
Is Koonin perhaps unaware of this seminal finding that undercuts his skepticism by two and a half decades? Perhaps. Or, more likely, he knows full well about where the science has been for decades and is instead raising long-wrong points for political purposes.
“There is absolutely nothing new here,” Schmidt points out of Koonin’s presentation. “Every argument, point, and even some graphics, are old, stale, and previously rebunked. These points could have been made (and undoubtedly were) in official reviews of assessment reports going back years. The people making these points have undoubtedly been told this and shown responses. In Koonin’s case, I know this for a fact (for instance). And yet, they persist. There is no development of the arguments, no counter-points, no constructive back and forth, just the same arguments that they appear to have thought up once and never examined.”
Denier arguments have been debunked so many times that Schmidt can make up the term “rebunked,” and it’s obvious what that it means. But they’re not presenting these arguments in good faith, believing that they’re true.
Deniers are presenting them as distractions and a delay tactic, because that’s been organized, fossil-fuel-funded denial machine’s strategy since they lifted it from the tobacco playbook.